Warped Big Blues
November 26, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Like the AmigaOS, TOS, and BeOS, IBM's OS/2 operating system's rise and fall gives insight into the current computing landscape.
posted by juiceCake (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
/sulks over lost loves.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I bought a copy of OS/2 Warp on discount from an Egghead going out of business. The 3 1/2 floppies version. Disk #22 was corrupt. Worst way to waste an afternoon ever.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:05 AM on November 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

Don't forget Apple SOS. the Sophisticated Operating System for the ill-fated Apple III. In 1985 Steve Wozniak called SOS "the finest operating system on any microcomputer ever". Only problem was it did not run Apple II software. Way to build upon an empire.
posted by Gungho at 11:12 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The reason I wanted to OS/2 was a friend who ran his BBS on it. He was constantly boasting about being able to have the BBS running (with 2 phone lines!) while he played Wing Commander at the same time. Sorcery!

The Compaq Portable pictured on the first page of the OS/2 article was my first computer. I took it to college and somehow got a TCP/IP stack running on DOS over the 2400 Baud modem. I sorely regret selling it when I upgraded to a junky Packard Bell Pentium 75 years later.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:18 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Packard Bell was the worrrrrrrrst.
posted by kmz at 11:21 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I always wanted to install OS/2 and never got around to it. Apple got to me first. I still have BeOS and various Be software in boxes that I can’t throw out.

Still waiting for Pink/Taligent. I was so excited.
posted by bongo_x at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My dad worked at IBM, so of course we had OS/2. It worked pretty well and I even ran a BBS on it for a while (that didn't go so well, not because of OS/2 but because I was a kid who was too cheap to register shareware). I do remember thinking even at the time that having high quality windows emulation was basically admitting defeat.

I kept OS/2 in the multiple boot on my computer even longer than I kept Windows (the one time I foolishly pirated software and it got infected, so I just deleted the OS). After not booting it for months or possibly years I decided to boot up OS/2 for old times sake. After booting the cursor wouldn't move since I had switched to a USB mouse in the interim, so I deleted the partition and reformatted it to ext2.
posted by ckape at 11:50 AM on November 26, 2013

We did some MCA and OS/2 development work when the PS/2 first came out, porting our LAN hardware and software across. It was nightmarish - we had sorta-working prototypes of both, but being a low-level developer was expensive, very badly supported by IBM, and just a lot, lot harder than ISA/DOS/Windows. (Which wasn't a walk in the park either - the ISA wasn't nearly as S as one might hope.)

You could feel all the enthusiasm for the platform just melt away across the industry as the reality of what it could do and what it cost sank in, compared to the existing clone/MS market. Eventually, we abandoned the LAN project - I seem to remember that our main client, who was as blue-chip an SME vendor as you could hope for, just lost interest as it became apparent than none of its customers were going to pay more for less either.

In 1991, I reviewed the PS/2 Model P75 for a magazine. This was a gas-plasma screened, mains-only, luggable PS/2, which worked well enough except for two questions I couldn't resolve and which IBM's PR seemed unable to answer. The first was 'who on earth would buy this?' and the second was 'how much does it cost?". It's a bit unusual for reviewers to be told that the cost of something they've been given to review is secret.

I did eventually find out the answer to the second question, and thus the answer to the first. $19,000 (yes, nineteen thousand dollars) - and "nobody."

I'd love to know why that thing was ever built.
posted by Devonian at 11:52 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Got OS/2 Warp free with a Dell 486 my then-job bought for me. Set up (by Dell!) to dual-boot Warp and "Dell Unix" (which turned out to be AT&T System V release 4 with Dell logos pasted all over it.) Just like the article says, OS/2 was an excellent and very stable multitasker for DOS and Win3.0/3.1 programs. Just like the article says, I never bought a single OS/2-native program. I did play with the few that came with the system but they were nothing memorable. I think there was a browser, but I preferred Mosaic over on the Unix side, even though it came source-only and had to be compiled.
posted by jfuller at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2013

There are still some diehards out there. This week I learned that there's a port of Firefox to OS/2 that's still being maintained. For real.
posted by mhoye at 12:04 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

When OS/2 came out I was working IT in an Ad Agency that was a "sister" agency to the Agency doing the OS/2 advertising. We were compelled to use the software, but it was a nightmare trying to get it running on over 100 PCs on a Novell Network - between the New York office and here in Detroit. It kind of worked, but was never widely deployed. Then I think we lost the business and the project was scrapped.

"The Compaq Portable II pictured on the first page of the OS/2 article was my first computer...." by Eddie Mars

I have one of those in my basement. It hangs while booting and won't load DOS. It did have a pretty awesome bowling game when I last used it 20 some years ago. I do not have a 5 1/4 bootable floppy.

Make me an offer. Shipping from MI not included.
posted by bricksNmortar at 12:06 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

“To stymie the clone makers, IBM infused MCA with the most advanced legal technology available, so much so that third-party makers of MCA expansion cards actually had to pay IBM a royalty for every card sold. ”

Tell me more about this highly advanced IBM legal technology.
posted by acb at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Still waiting for Pink

The only thing I remember about Pink is (a) Taligent was a joint venture between Apple and IBM, and (b) this joke:

Q: What do you call Apple plus IBM?
A: (usually delivered with an ominous, knowing look) IBM.

Nowadays that joke usually requires some explanation about how IBM was the massively dominant industry leader, not the minor bit player it is today.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

2013 version:
Q: What do you call Apple pluA: SHUT UP ANDROID FANBOI
posted by ancillary at 1:00 PM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

So I might have worked for IBM's software division during the late nineties and early aughts and nothing in that article surprises me at all. Truly a company that could not figure out how to get out of its own way; the internal decision making processes were glacial at best. An internal joke was that it took 18 months for IBM to ship an empty box, if you wanted to actually put software in that box, it would take longer. I was generally amazed that anything ever made it out the door.
posted by octothorpe at 1:27 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used OS/2 and ran a BBS with it and generally made an ass of myself telling everyone how much their favorite operating system sucked. It was perfect for what I wanted to do, but looking back I can see the faults more clearly now. In the early 90s you had to be willing to tolerate a lot of dysfunction in order to use a computer, but the amount of times that I built and rebuilt my OS/2 box would be absolutely intolerable to anyone today.

It was a good system, but it felt like owning an interesting an obscure import auto. People were curious but generally turned off by the notion of doing their own roadside repair in order to drive it.

Looking back it is amazing to think that I trusted it as much as I did. For me, at least, this was pre-Internet and the community of support to run OS/2 was largely limited to a few decent BBSs. Sometimes you found answers in books or magazines, but most often you fiddled around until you made stuff work. When you couldn't, you made a backup and rebuilt your system.

It all sounds nuts to me now. I had a lot more free time back then.
posted by dgran at 1:43 PM on November 26, 2013

We used to run thousands of these things back in the 90's at the bank.
posted by mikelieman at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2013

OS/2 did multitasking of DOS apps. It was mind blowing. Think of the possibilities. And it mostly worked, with a lot of fiddling.
posted by stbalbach at 1:53 PM on November 26, 2013

I still have a dual-66Mhz BeBox in a box in the garage...
posted by mrbill at 2:21 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

OS/2 did multitasking of DOS apps. It was mind blowing.

"Better than DOS" = "Damned by faint praise".
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:45 PM on November 26, 2013

All I remember about OS/2 is Neko. My goodness, how I loved Neko.
posted by mykescipark at 2:50 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

OS/2 did multitasking of DOS apps.

There was something wrong with DoubleDOS?
posted by pompomtom at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2013

IBM WebExplorer was a pretty great browser for its time.
posted by ckape at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I worked for IBM for a while in the early 90s, and OS/2 was awesome compared to what had come before. It just didn't go anywhere after that.
posted by tavella at 3:27 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bought an IBM ThinkPad 701CS (with the butterfly keyboard!) when I was in graduate school. I kind of unfairly dismissed OS2/Warp without really giving it a chance. I was complaining about it one day to one of my classmates who replied, "Interesting. Also, I am one of the authors of the manual."
posted by 4ster at 3:56 PM on November 26, 2013

I'd love to know why that thing was ever built.

When I worked for IBM, I had one of those P75's. They were just the ticket for doing maintenance work because we had software that would emulate just about any terminal you could care to name, and my jobs were sometimes in the trackless wastes of rural Illlinois and Indiana. Playing flight simulator on that orange screen sucked, though.
posted by pjern at 4:27 PM on November 26, 2013

Wasn't Neko originally a Mac app?
posted by acb at 4:44 PM on November 26, 2013

I still have a dual-66Mhz BeBox in a box in the garage...

Ooh, aaahhhh.
posted by bongo_x at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2013

I would have killed for a BeBox. Though not as much as for a NeXT cube.

These days, either would be great to have in a glass case in the foyer of one's palatial residence, though once one plugged it in, a MacBook Air would run rings around it in every way.
posted by acb at 4:48 PM on November 26, 2013

Pjern - but $19K? That's what gets me. I can't help thinking those things existed for some particular contract...
posted by Devonian at 4:59 PM on November 26, 2013

Surely there are VMs out there of VirtualBox and such for OS/2 and BeOS.. Right?

So.. there are bugs, but there are a few
posted by DigDoug at 5:57 PM on November 26, 2013

I remember someone's signature on Usenet in the 80s: "PS/2 -- Half a computer. OS/2 -- Half an OS for half a computer."

I played around on it a bit, but to someone used to BSD4.3 on the mighty VAX 8650 and SunOS4 on the cool new Sparcstation, it was... underwhelming.
posted by phliar at 6:12 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

mykescipark: X11 had a version called oneko -- which is probably still available!
posted by phliar at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Devonian- There were actually 2 models of the Portable- The P70 (386-based) and the P75 (486-based). Yes, they had eye-watering prices, and I suspect that's why I had one to lug around as a diagnostic machine. I ran a heck of a lot of Token Ring diags on mine. I don't know if I ever saw one at a customer site.
posted by pjern at 11:03 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Make me an offer. Shipping from MI not included." by bricksNmortar

So tempting, but I think I'd get in trouble if I tried to add another busted machine to my collection.
I already have a shelf with:
A Mac Classic
A Power Computing Mac clone running BeOS
An iMac (broken)
A Newton 2000
A Newton eMate
The Packard Bell that replaced the Compaq
The Dell that replaced the Packard Bell
The Dell that replaced the Dell
The media PC that was retired in a consolidation effort last year
An HP Notebook
A Dell Notebook
A Macbook
A Macbook Air
A Raspberry Pi currently acting as an Audio server
My current PC

I may have a problem.
posted by Eddie Mars at 6:20 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

At one point my company's software in the Korean edition wasn't performing correctly. I was assigned to find out why. Spent over a week, loading and reloading OS/2 (Korean version) to track down the problem... over and over again.

IIRC, there were something like 25 3.5" diskettes in the install. By the end of it I recognized the Korean words for OK, Cancel, Help, Install...

25 diskettes. God I hate OS/2.

Found the problem, at least.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

> 25 diskettes. God I hate OS/2.

Sympathize intimately. My first real live 32-bit home *nix (1989, when there was no Linux yet, Xenix was still 16 bit, and Minix was still 8-bit) was AT&T System V release 3.2, built for x86 processors by Interactive (a good product and a good company, later gobbled up by Sun.) I could afford only the basic text-mode system, no X windows GUI, no TeX, none of that, and it still arrived on 44 4.25" floppy-style diskettes. And there was no recovery from a failed install. If floppy #43 failed to read in the middle you started the process over again from #1.

I did get it installed and running at last, but before that happened I was going "I MUST have a scsi tape to do a real backup of this thing. Before food, clothing or shelter, MUST have scsi tape."
posted by jfuller at 6:11 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, since you went there, with my first Windows machine I used to do floppy backups. A little over 100 disks.
posted by bongo_x at 11:54 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Found the problem, at least.

좋은 일! ("Good job!")
posted by blueberry at 12:40 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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